Dakota Datebook

Sesame Street

Thursday, November 21, 2013


We all know what we can find on Sesame Street – friendly monsters, catchy tunes, and sunny days  – even if we still couldn’t tell you how to get there after 43 years of singing about it. That’s right, this month marks the 43rd anniversary of Sesame Street nationally and the 42nd anniversary in North Dakota. The children featured in the original Sesame Street theme song could be grandparents now. But with more Emmy and Grammy awards than any other children’s program, Sesame Street seems to be here to stay.

In 1966, Joan Ganz Cooney hosted a dinner party. Lloyd Morrisett, who was later a co-founder of the Sesame Workshop, was one of her guests. Over dinner, they discussed ways to “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them.” Three years later, the first episode of Sesame Street was on the air.

This month in 1969, Gordon showed a new girl named Sally around the Sesame Street neighborhood. She scared Big Bird, learned about the letter “W” from Kermit the Frog, and saw Bert & Ernie bicker over a bathtub.

But Sesame Street wasn’t only unique because of muppets and a talking alphabet. As Malcolm Gladwell put it, “Sesame Street was built around a single, breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them.” Michael David, a Sesame Street writer, took a slightly different tone when he jokingly called Sesame Street “perhaps the most vigorously researched, vetted, and fretted-over program.”

However you look at it, it’s true that Sesame Street was the first show to use formal psychological research to educate children of all backgrounds. It became known as the “Children’s Television Network Model,” and many shows still try to imitate it – to varying levels of success.

But in the 1990s more shows started dabbling in educational elements, so Sesame Street had to rethink itself to stay unique. They decided to target more preschoolers. This led to more of everyone’s favorite, the fuzzy red Elmo! The release of Tickle Me Elmo and the launch of Elmo’s World ushered in “Elmo-Mania” on Sesame Street.

Tune in tomorrow to hear about Elmo’s visit to Fargo, and more little-known tidbits about how the “fretting” Sesame Street writers strive to “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them.”

Dakota Datebook by Leewana Thomas


Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, by Michael Davis, published by Viking Adult, December 26, 2008.

NY Mag, “How We Got to ‘Sesame Street,’” Tim Murphy, November 2009.

Prairie Public Chronological History Documents.

Sesame Street episode 1, aired November 10, 1969 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SScQSIrX3nk

“Positively Sesame Street,” Peter Hawthorne, Time Magazine, 2002.

“Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration.” http://www.sesameworkshop.org/incarceration/

Interviews with Prairie Public Staff

Healthy Habits for Life Public Service Announcements: http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Healthy_Habits_for_Life



This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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